Seattle leaders now have the money to drop regressive tax increases
Last week, the King County Council voted to preserve 95% of Metro bus service without raising taxes. The council’s action will likely comfort those who stood to lose most from tax increases and threatened bus cuts: the public, bus riders, and especially, low-income families and the disabled. Earlier this year King County officials threatened to cut 17% of bus service if voters did not raise regressive tax increases on the April ballot.
The Washington State Department of Transportation’s daily Twitter notices provide people with up-to-date news and traffic alerts about their commute. WSDOT officials often suggest alternative routes around traffic accidents or inform travelers of upcoming bridge closures or repairs. But lately, WSDOT officials have allowed daily traffic congestion to get so bad they are starting to tell people to stay home, instead of using the highways we all pay for.
The Seattle Times reported on this morning’s horrendous traffic jams, noting politics and policy choices are getting in the way of providing people with congestion relief. Transportation reporter Mike Lindblom noted, “Congestion relief is no longer an official top priority of Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)” as it was in the past. In 2007 lawmakers re-prioritized transportation spending to achieve five goals with transportation money. They added a sixth in 2010.
A report released last month by the Reason Foundation ranks Washington as the state with the 42nd best highway performance out of the 50 U.S. states. Just three years ago, the state ranked 24th among other states. Washington received poor marks because “mileage in poor condition (on urban and rural Interstates and rural arterials) increased considerably, despite increased spending (relative to the U.S. average).”
After years of debate on whether the ports of Seattle and Tacoma should merge, port officials announced today they have formed a single Seaport Alliance. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, “The Seaport Alliance will manage marine cargo terminal investments plus marketing, planning and operations, while existing government structures, taxing authority and ownership of assets remain in place.”
After months of doubt, threats and controversy, bus riders and taxpayers finally have some good news: the King County Councilmembers unanimously voted to stop the bus service cuts they had planned for 2015. County officials now say they will limit their cut to a total of 151,000 hours of bus service, instead of the 600,000 bus hours they threatened earlier this year, citing windfall sales tax revenues and better management practices at Metro.
Members of Metro Transit’s Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 voted to turn down a fair contract that would have provided them with a 2% pay raise over three years, The Seattle Times reports today.
The contract offer would have provided a fair pay raise, while allowing King County leaders to preserve more bus service for the public without raising regressive taxes. Still, 66% of union members rejected the offer, saying it was not generous enough.
The news keeps getting better at King County Metro Transit. Metro officials are the beneficiaries of record-breaking sales tax revenues, and are seeing large tax windfalls that were unthinkable just two years ago. Back then, Metro executives assumed their sales tax revenues would grow at a meager pace, and they planned to impose harsh bus cuts in many communities unless they raised taxes. However, a rebounding economy and swelling coffers should allow officials to keep bus service on the road without regressive tax increases.
Many ferry passengers have known for some time that the ferry system in our state is broken. Some state leaders have continuously fought to reform the troubled agency to restore the public trust, only to be met with fierce resistance from powerful labor unions and well-compensated upper management.
New information from Island Transit shows a series of poor financial decisions made by local managers are the source of the district’s trouble, not lack of state money. Island Transit provides bus service and vanpools throughout Whidbey and Camano Islands, with routes connecting Skagit and Snohomish Counties. The agency is fully subsidized by taxpayers and doesn’t collect fares from passengers. Earlier this year, Island Transit officials announced plans to cut the Camano Island to Everett bus route, citing a lack of state tax money as the primary reason.
Seattle voters will have their say in November on another tax plan to “save” Metro bus service. Last week, the Seattle City Council voted to send the tax-increase plan to the November ballot with the following text:
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District’s Proposition 1 concerns funding for Metro Transit service.
Earlier this week, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance to preserve 96% of Metro bus service by only adopting a 161,000-hour service cut on September 27th. Metro provides about 3.5 million hours of bus service to King County. King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said the following about the adopted cuts (emphasis mine):
Starting tonight, three westbound lanes of Interstate 90 across Lake Washington will be closed for bridge construction. Despite pleas from the public, state officials are pressing forward with their plan to impose fully-priced tolls on those hit hardest by the road closure. The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC), the agency responsible for tolling in the region, said they cannot exempt the public from paying tolls on SR-520 during the I-90 construction project, because it needs the $1.3 million in revenue to pay back debt.
Bob Pishue is director of WPC’s Coles Center for Transportation. Prior to joining Washington Policy Center in 2013, Bob interned at the Washington Research Council where he produced policy briefs on initiatives and referenda. His last role was the IT and HR Manager for a Bellevue-based retailer. A Washington resident throughout his life, Bob grew up in Everett and graduated from Central Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Bob serves on his church’s annual audit committee and is also an avid golfer. He lives in Kirkland.